The parent company of a Tri-Cities long-term care home at the centre of an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has launched what it calls a “sweeping set of initiatives” aimed at protecting residents.
Sienna Senior Living, which owns Nicola Lodge in Port Coquitlam, announced late Wednesday night it had hired Ontario’s former Deputy Attorney General to carry out “an immediate, company-wide review into the policies, practices and culture” at its care facilities.
Of the 37 long-term care and retirement homes the company runs in Ontario and British Columbia, 16 have documented COVID-19 outbreaks.
The investigation follows allegations of neglect, incompetence and abuse from both the Canadian Armed Forces and several whistleblowers. In a damning report which includes one of its Scarborough facilities, Canadian forces personnel detail "horrific" allegations of insect infestations, aggressive resident feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections and residents crying for help for hours. The home — site of 53 COVID-19 deaths — is now subject to a $20 million class action lawsuit filed on behalf of family members.
And while some allegations of neglect at its Ontario facilities, like how residents are not receiving three meals a day and how the military brought in its own food to feed residents, echo the allegations at Nicola Lodge, others, like bed sores worn through to the bone and dangerous errors in administering medication, go much further.
“As part of the investigation led by Mr. Boniferro, any residences that raise red flags will be identified and addressed,” wrote a spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living in a press release.
Since it was revealed last week that the coronavirus had made it into the Port Coquitlam care home, The Tri-City News has spoken with several family members of loved ones living at the facility.
Some, who wished to remain anonymous for fear their loved ones would face repercussions, recounted several instances of neglect, including how residents would be left to languish for two weeks without a shower and were not being given proper chances to eat. In some cases, family members said staff took advantage of residents grappling with dementia and that communication from Nicola Lodge went dark in the weeks leading up to the announcement of a COVID-19 case last week.
Since The Tri-City News published that report Tuesday, June 2, other family members of Nicola Lodge residents have reached out to the newspaper.
Sisters Sheri Agosti and Shannon Stephenson said their mother, a resident at Nicola Lodge, was recently abused by a care aid.
“Our mom called us crying, saying the care aid was yelling/insulting her and throwing her clothes around,” wrote Stephenson in an email.
Stephenson said that following the review of surveillance footage, the employee was put on temporary leave but soon was back on her mother’s floor, prompting the sisters to seek guidance from police. Since then, communication has improved, said the sisters, but "To purposely cause suffering or to verbally abuse someone who is compromised mentally or physically should absolutely not be tolerated," they wrote.
It’s those kinds of conditions Sienna Senior Living says it will address in its six-point review. In addition to the independent investigation, the company says it will be working to re-educate front line workers, conduct sensitivity training and improve communications through videoconference town hall meetings and virtual visits.
The company also said it has begun a search to hire an expert in senior health at the executive level to help carry out any changes and is “accelerating aggressive recruitment efforts” to bring in staff at other levels.
Whether that's enough to improve the company's track-record is yet to be seen.
The same night the company released details of their investigation, a high-ranking official with the company was overheard in a video conference call with families mocking the residents of one of Sienna Senior Living’s Toronto-area homes, according to a report by the CBC. Since then, The Tri-City News has learned that Joanne Dykeman, who was the executive vice-president of operations with Sienna Senior Living, has been fired.
“To be clear, these remarks are not consistent with the real and substantive changes that we announced yesterday as part of a six-point plan to protect our residents,” president and CEO Lois Cormack and chair and director Dino Chiesa in a written statement.
Shares in the company plunged last week following the release of the military report, slipping to $9.04 by Wednesday, June 2, a 10-year low that's less than half their $19.61 value on Feb. 18.